M.A. Piggot was the first English lady who visited Sri Ramana.
I had visited India before, but my first visit off the beaten track was in 1932-33. It was my wish to meet one of the holy men of India, but so far it had been a vain one.Then I was told of Ramana Maharshi. The friend who gave me the welcome news offered to take me to him, and so we arrived at Tiruvannamalai.
He was seated on a divan in front of which sandalsticks were burning. About a dozen people were present in the hall. I sat crosslegged on the floor, though a chair had been thoughtfully provided for me. Suddenly I became conscious that the Maharshi’s eyes were fixed on me. They seemed literally like burning coals of fire piercing through me. Never before had I experienced anything so devastating – in that it was almost frightening. What I went through in that terrible half hour, by way of self-condemnation and scorn for the pettiness of my own life, would be difficult to describe.
In the light of perfection all imperfections were revealed.
When we returned for the evening meditation, the hall was compellingly still. The eyes of the Holy One blazed no more. They were serene and inverted. All my troubles seemed smoothened out and difficulties melted away. Nothing that we of the world call important mattered. Time was forgotten.
From that time onwards started a routine that was to be the same for many weeks.The rickety cart would turn up at six in the morning. It took me to the Ashram and came Backagain for the evening journey. I soon acquired a technique of balance that promised safety in the cart. I was given a small hut, seven feet by seven, for my use during the day; the Ashram did not provide night accommodation for ladies in those days.
Among those who had turned up at the Ashram was the well-known author, Paul Brunton.We had many enlightening talks. Asking questions in the open hall was rather an ordeal, but backed by him I lost some of my diffidence. An interpreter was always on hand; for although the Maharshi understands English he does not speak it with ease. He knows immediately, however, whether the exact shade of meaning has been accurately translated, and if not, he perseveres until one has understood him completely.
One day we brought up the question of guruship and asked, “Is it necessary for spiritual attainment to have a guru?”The Maharshi ordered a certain treatise to be read, in which it was stated that as in all physical and intellectual training a teacher is sought, so in matters spiritual the same principle holds good.” “And”, he added, “it is hard for a man to arrive at the goal without the aid of such a one.” I turned to him and said, “But you had no guru.”
A rustle of shocked horror ran through the hall. But the Maharshi was not in the least disturbed by my thoughtless remark. On the contrary, he looked at me with a twinkle in his eye.Then he threw Backhis head and gave a joyous whole-hearted laugh. It endeared me to him as nothing else could. A saint who can turn the laugh against himself is a saint indeed!
One day a man rushed in and flung himself face down before the Maharshi. He was crying bitterly. Great sobs tore his body. The Maharshi said nothing. His head was turned aside, and he seemed indifferent. After some little time, the violence of the man’s grief subsided and gradually he became quiet. Then at last, reverently the man arose and made a deep salutation.The Maharshi turned his head and smiled upon him. I felt suddenly as if all the flowers of the world had poured their fragrance into our midst.
Another time a poor person who had been bitten by a snake was brought in and laid before him. We all watched, fear gripping our heart. Not so he, who sat looking into the far distance, while the victim writhed in pain. Calm and compassion was in that look, and infinite peace. After what seemed like hours, the twitching ceased and the man appeared to be in sleep. Then the one who had brought in the sufferer gently touched him. The man rose, prostrated himself before the Maharshi and went out cured.
But this was unusual. The Maharshi did not heal in the accepted form of the word. Talking about it one day, I asked him if one could use spiritual power for healing. He remarked, “Yes, if you think it worthwhile,” but added, “it required a great deal of force, which might be used more profitably in other directions.“
That afternoon I had my farewell talk with the Maharshi. He was so gentle and human. I again asked about the relation of the body to the ‘I’. He gave his smile, and said, “You came up from the bungalow this morning in a cart, yet you do not say, “The cart came.” You say, “I came up.” You did not make the mistake of identifying yourself with the cart. In the same way, look upon your body as you do the cart. Treat it well, and it will be a good servant and instrument. But do not be deceived into thinking it is ‘I’. At the end of our talk, he quoted that wonderful saying from the Upanishad, “When, to the man who understands, the Self has become all things, what sorrow, what trouble can there be, to him who has once beheld this unity?”
I had been in despair of ever getting the Maharshi alone. It is hard to unburden the soul before a crowd. One morning, I went into the hall early and found him there unattended, emanating a wonderful stillness and peace. I asked quietly if I might talk with him. He nodded and smilingly sent for someone to translate. My first question was, “What are the hindrances to the realisation of the true Self?” He said, “Memory, chiefly habits of thoughts, accumulated tendencies.” When I enquired, “How does one get rid of these hindrances,” his answer was:
“Seek for the Self through meditation by tracing every thought Backto its origin, which is only the mind. Never allow thought to run on. If you do, it will be unending. Take it Backto the starting place – the mind -again and again, and the thought and the mind will both die of inaction. The mind only exsits by reason of thought. Stop that and there is no mind. As each doubt and depression arises, ask yourself, “Who is it that doubts? What is it that is depressed?” Go Backconstantly to the question, “Who is the ‘I’? Where is it? Tear everything away until there is nothing but the source of all remains. Live always in the present; there is no past or future, except in the mind.”
Regarding meditation, he said, “Meditate on what you are in Reality. Try to realise that your are not the body, emotions or intellect.” As the days passed, I saw more and more clearly that this was no theoretical philosophy. He himself lived it continuously and joyously.
He was one of the few I have met who were not only happy but untroubled. Not that the sorrows of the world left him untouched, but he knew where they belonged and was not identified with them. To any sufferer his compassion was unlimited.
As I went to say goodbye in the evening, the Ashram people clustered around for my departure, I felt I had made and was leaving true friends. They were so simple and so genuine.